Liberation Theology

  1. Some background on the Catholic Church in Latin America

    1. Traditionally, Church associated with upper classes, status quo

    2. However, there is also a tradition of local priests identifying with their communities

    3. Church plagued by limited staff in many places, esp. rural areas and shantytowns

    4. Many people in rural areas, shantytowns, saw priests rarely

    5. Men in particular rarely seen in church

    6. Folk Catholicism often more important culturally than official Catholicism

    7. By 20th century, facing multiple challenges

      1. Coping with modern world

      2. Rise of Marxism

      3. Growth of Protestantism, esp. in Brazil

    8. Some early attempt to meet these challenges

      1. Rerum novarum - 1891 - Pope Leo XIII

        1. Deplored materialism of capitalism, atheism of Marxism

        2. Inspired many in lower clergy to begin seeking a Catholic position on modern social issues

      2. Catholic Action - inspired by Rerum novarum

        1. Widespread movement in entire Catholic world

        2. Sought Catholic version of social reform

        3. Politicized many people, increased importance of lay leadership in Church

      3. Cursillo movement - gets to Latin America by 1955

        1. Short retreats meant to get men involved in church, develop lay leaders

        2. Introduced idea of "see, judge, act" (rooted in ideas of Thomas Aquinas)

  2. Vatican II (1962-1965)

    1.  Called by Pope John XXIII

      1. Encouraged Church to enter a dialogue with the world

      2. Allowed for a greater role for laity in the church (symbolized by use of vernacular)

      3. From the conclusions -- The greater part of the world is still suffering from so much poverty that it is as if Christ Himself were crying out in these poor to beg the charity of the disciples. Do not let men, then, be scandalized because some countries with a majority of citizens who are counted as Christians have an abundance of wealth, whereas others are deprived of the necessities of life and are tormented with hunger, disease, and every kind of misery. The spirit of poverty and charity are the glory and witness of the Church of Christ.

  3. CELAM - Medellin, 1968

    1. Council of Latin American Bishops meets to discuss meaning of Vatican II for Latin America

    2. Conclusions (excerpts)

      1. Because all liberation is an anticipation of the complete redemption of Christ, the Church in Latin America is particularly in favor of all educational efforts which tend to free our people . . . . A deafening cry pours from the throats of millions of men, asking their pastors for a liberation that reaches them from nowhere else.

      2. The lack of socio-cultural integration, in the majority of our countries, has given rise to the superimposition of cultures.

      3. For our authentic liberation, all of us need a profound conversion so that "the kingdom of justice, love and peace", might come to us. The origin of all disdain for mankind, of all injustice, should be sought in the internal imbalance of human liberty, which will always need to be rectified in history.

      4. The Christian quest for justice is a demand arising from biblical teaching. All men are merely humble stewards of material goods. In the search for salvation we must avoid the dualism which separates temporal tasks from the work of sanctification. Although we are encompassed with imperfections, we are men of hope. We have faith that our love for Christ and our brethren will not only be the great force liberating us from injustice and oppression, but also the inspiration for social justice, under- stood as a whole of life and as an impulse toward the integral growth of our countries.

      5. Our pastoral mission is essentially a service of encouraging and educating the conscience of believers, to help them to perceive the responsibilities of their faith in their personal life and in their social life.

      6. The Latin American Church encourages the formation of national communities that reflect a global organization, where all of the peoples but more especially the lower classes have, by means of territorial and functional structures, an active and receptive, creative and decisive participation in the construction of a new society.

  4. CELAM - Puebla - 1979

    1. Under influence of more conservative Pope John Paul II, tones down some of Medellin

    2. Still, maintains and expands on some of the social conclusions

    3. Conclusions (excerpts)

      1. We see the continuing operation of economic systems that do not regard the human being as the center of society, and that are not carrying out the profound changes needed to move toward a just society.

      2. One of the serious consequences of the lack of integration among our nations is that we go before the world as small entities without any ability to push through negotiations in the concert of nations.

      3. There is the fact of economic, technological, political, and cultural dependence; the presence of multinational conglomerates that often look after only their own interests at the expense of the welfare of the country that welcomes them in; and the drop in value of our raw materials as compared with the price of finished products we buy.

      4. The arms race, the great crime of our time, is both the result and the cause of tensions between fellow countries. Because of it, enormous resources are being allotted for arms purchases instead of being employed to solve vital problems.

      5. There is a lack of structural reforms in agriculture that adequately deal with specific realities and decisively attack the grave social and economic problems of the peasantry. Such problems include access to land and to resources that would enable them to improve their productivity and their marketing.

      6. We see a crisis in moral values: public and private corruption; greed for exorbitant profit; venality; lack of real effort; the absence of any social sense of practical justice and solidarity; and the flight of capital resources and brain power. All these things prevent or undermine communion with God and brotherhood.

      7. Finally, speaking as pastors and without trying to determine the technical character of these underlying roots, we ourselves see that at bottom there lies a mystery of sinfulness. This is evident when the human person, called to have dominion over the world, impregnates the mechanisms of society with materialistic values.

    4. Endorsed idea of "preferential option for the poor"

  5. Liberation Theology

    1. What is it?

      1. Term coined in 1968 by Gustavo Guttierez

      2. First and foremost, it is theology

      3. An attempt to "Latinamericanize" theology

      4. Based on belief that theology must spring from the experience of the people and guide them toward liberation

      5. A biblical and theological investigation of the idea of liberation

    2. Theology springs from methodology

      1. Praxis -- theology springs from action

      2. Guttierez sees theology as coming from doing justice in the world

      3. Conscientization - poor must be made aware of the roots of their poverty

      4. See, judge, act

    3. Fundamental Themes

      1. Description of Reality - analysis of Latin American society based on dependency theory and class analysis

      2. Unity of History - spiritual world and material world not separate. Thus liberation must come in this world as well as the next

      3. Political Activity - one must not only talk about justice, one must do justice

      4. Conflict and change - assume that these, not status quo, are the norm

      5. Preferential option for the poor

      6. Liberation - real liberation happens now, in the world

    4. Importance of material liberation

      1. Goodness of Creation --  Humans are created in the likeness of God, thus God is found through humans, all humans worthy of dignity

      2. Cain and Abel, not Eve and the apple, are the prototype of sin -- sin is doing injustice to another

      3. Emphasis on Mathew 25 ("For I was hungry and you gave me food...") - Practical aid to neighbor as justification of good life.

      4. God, Jesus, the prophets seen as proclaiming liberation from poverty, slavery, and oppression.

  6. Base Ecclesiastical Communities - CEBs

    1. Arose as a response to Vatican II's challenge for renewal

    2. Also, came from local priests response to problem of too few resources, not enough priests

    3. Study groups of laity

    4. Often inspired by "see, judge, act" -- many taken on active social role in community

    5. By 1908s, 70,000 in Brazil alone with 2.5 million members

    6. Most important among poor -- become a catalyst for grass roots organization


Much of this lecture is derived from Crisis and Change: The Church in Latin America Today, by Edward L. Cleary.